Margaret Cho says comedy has entered an exciting new era, as comics like her have to navigate the unpredictable news cycle and rapidly changing attitudes about what can be considered funny.
“Comedians are kind of supposed to go too far, but it's such a danger now that to tell a joke of any type is really a risk,” says Cho, calling from her Los Angeles home. “Anybody could be offended at any time. Offending people was actually a great achievement for comedians, but now you can't even entertain that. Or you try to get as close to it as you can without getting burned. I think that's the challenge today.”
And Cho, known for her groundbreaking ABC series “All-American Girl” as well as her stand-up specials and playing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on “30 Rock,” is always up for a challenge, including launching a new podcast “The Margaret Cho” and new dates on her “Fresh Off the Bloat” tour that include her first Long Island performance at the Patchogue Theatre Friday.
You tweeted that you’re “intrigued” by Long Island. How come?
I think there's a lot of references about it through literature, whether it's “The Great Gatsby” or “The Mary Jo Buttafuoco/Amy Fisher Story.” There's so many things in my existence – all these different kinds of experiences – that are from there. To me, it's quite exotic. All of New York is very exotic. When I was a kid, we had relatives that lived in Scarsdale, which to me was incredibly exotic, and it was like they were from The Bermuda Triangle or something. To me, it’s very, very enriching to be around there, with the diets and murders and all sorts of crazy things. So, I have a very romantic view of the place.
Is “Fresh Off the Bloat” a new set piece you’ve written or does it change?
I think nowadays you have to write new jokes every day. You can’t rest on anything because the framework of news changes so minute-to-minute and everybody’s updated on everything minute-to-minute. So it presents a challenge for comedians who want to stay right on the edge of technology and information and stay in time with society. We have to be really topical really fast. So, yeah, this is all new material, but it's also kind of a new way of doing comedy because you're just really clued into what's going on.
It’s quite a tightrope to walk these days.
Yeah. It's scary. It's like, ‘What can I say so that I'll still be perceived as dangerous but not be canceled?” How do you not get canceled? Everybody gets canceled so much. (Laughs) I was canceled in the early '90s, so I'm almost immune to it in a way, but you can't really say that. It's a very weird time. I've never had more of a sense of fear around talking, which is what comedians do.
Right. There used to be a tradition of comedians testing out their jokes so they would see how far they could go. But you can't really work on your act in public anymore in that way because everyone has a phone or they'll tell people, “She said this horrible thing.”
Maybe it’s a good thing. You think of people like Joan Rivers who always wanted to toe that line of almost going too far… It's so wild that you can just really get in trouble for telling a joke or showing some kind of rebellion.
But you still keep doing it. What topics are you thinking about for your show now?
I am coming in hot on the college admissions scandal because it's a deeply rooted thing for Asian Americans. And I didn't go to college so that's like a very taboo thing also…There's of course lots of stuff about the current political landscape, how rotten that is. It's just an incredible time to talk about politics, which is something I've always done, but now, more than ever, it's so crazy. And I think I have to go deep into the Jussie Smollett thing. People get very scared when they're talking about Jussie Smollett because they're like, “Can we talk about this? What are we going to say?” I think that makes it really interesting to talk about. But everything can shift. It’s already been quite a year.
WHO Margaret Cho
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, July 19, Patchogue Theatre, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue
INFO $39-$69; 631-207-1313, patchoguetheatre.org